I love the board game Pictionary. I’ve loved it since I was a child, and I’m reasonably good at it. I’m not an artist – not at all – but Pictionary isn’t really about drawing, it is about communicating.
Most people would recognize that whomever is drawing the picture is trying to communicate something. The important thing to remember is that the person guessing is also communicating something. He or she is communicating what he or she understands. If the drawer doesn’t listen and respond to what the guesser is saying, he might keep going down a dead-end path, drawing something that his partner will continue to mis-identify. What your partner is guessing tells you what your partner knows already, and what information needs to be added. If you’re trying to draw “eat” and your partner keeps guessing body parts – teeth, tongue, etc – then maybe you need to add a plate, fork and knife. Or if you’re drawing the verb “crawl” and your partner keeps guessing all different animals you know how your picture needs to be modified.
I was thinking about the give-and-take part of Pictionary the other day when I was talking online with someone about online communication. If other people are misinterpreting what you said you have a couple of choices. You could work on clarifying a picture, or you can scratch one attempt and take on the topic from a different point of view. Just as a partner stuck guessing about robots and machines is a sign you should switch to drawing dice instead of a slot-machine for “gamble,” so too is a reader getting stuck on little details a sign to switch gears.
Pictionary also stresses the importance of shared ideas and experiences. My mom has a theory that single-gender teams work better than mixed gender teams. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know I would have never drawn Mary, Martha and Jesus in a scene if I was working with anyone other than my mom that time. I wouldn’t make Star Trek references for either of my parents to guess, but I could use them on my son and husband. Sports references mean nothing to me.
The need for shared experiences is part of why I go ahead and encourage my homeschooled sons to learn about Pokemon or Transformers or whatever it is the local school kids talk about, though my children have had to learn to recognize that their friends won’t always return the favor and learn about what they are learning about. (I think my oldest was only five or six when he realized that we’re different in some ways than the children around him, and he asked me one day as we went into a store that we pretend to be normal people. He told me he’d pretend to be interested in the Transformers and advertisements, and that I shouldn’t talk about certain topics. Since then he has developed a genuine interest in Transformers but my point is that shared experiences – and a recognition of when experiences are not shared – is important for communicating.
In Pictionary it doesn’t matter how perfect a drawing is if the other person doesn’t know what it is. It’s the communication that matters. Listening, respond, adjust one’s plan accordingly. It’s like the joke: There were two small boys, John and Jim, who were friends. Jim had a dog. One day they were taking the dog for a walk walk and and Jim said proudly: “I’ve taught the dog to whistle”. “What do you mean?”, said John, “He’s not whistling”. “I know”, said Jim, “But I said I’d taught him; I didn’t say he’d learned”.